What I Wish I Knew Before My 1L Year
Having just finished my first year of law school, I did a lot of reflecting. Although my 1L year was unlike many others, having been propelled into the new world of online learning and stay at home orders. But I still learned a lot and realized where I fell short. I did well in my first year, landing above a 3.5 GPA, but I certainly could have done better. Knowing what I know now, there are certain things that I wish I had known before my 1L year. Here, I share them with you in hopes they help you go above and beyond in your first year of law school!
What I Wish I Knew Before My 1L Year
1. Start To Outline Early
I will be the first to admit I fell victim to late outlining. All semester I told myself that next weekend was when my outlines would begin, and it never happened. I did manage to put together all necessary outlines in time for exams, but it completely destroyed the time I could have used memorizing and taking practice tests. This caused my exam review to be far more time-intensive than it needed to be, leaving me with few breaks and long nights. Although I did decently well on my exams, I also had a rude awakening of how much farther I could have gone if I had outlined early and consistently. It might be challenging to push yourself to put this extra work week after week, but it will pay off in the end. Outlining early on in the semester will be the difference between a B and an A, and those grades give you entirely different opportunities.
2. Don’t Brief Every Case
Although the first lesson you will probably be taught in law school is how to brief a case, don’t feel inclined to do it every time. Before my 1L year, I thought cases were everything. However, you shouldn’t be wasting valuable time briefing every case. I know the pressure of a cold call might leave you thinking you need to know every detail of every case, but this is not true. Remember, your focus should be on exam day since your final exam grade is 100% of your course grade (in most classes). On your exam, the professor will most likely not require specific cases to be cited. The cases are meant to demonstrate black letter law extensively so you can better understand difficult concepts. Use them for this purpose and do not spend time memorizing them. Skip case briefs for every case and reallocate that time to working on your outline throughout the semester. You will be thankful for it!
3. No One Knows What They Are Doing
If you are like me, coming into law school without any connection to the legal world, everything can be incredibly intimidating. My first few weeks were spent feeling ridiculous and like a complete imposter. Some students sounded so sure of themselves in cold calls, while I fumbled to find the right page. It took some time for me to allow myself the opportunity to adjust. However, at some point, you realize that everyone is in the same boat, and no one really knows what they are doing. In fact, some students that were confident in class ended up scoring below me on the exam. The grading system is not the only learning curve in law school, so you must give yourself the time to adjust. Had I known everyone was struggling to keep up before my 1L year, it would have saved me a lot of internalized grief.
4. Don’t Skip Out On Friendships
Of course, when I started law school, I wanted to make friends. However, amid imposter syndrome and the first-year jitters, I was focused entirely on my studying. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was wrong by skipping out on friendships along the way. Your classmates are going through the same struggles you are experiencing, and it is invaluable to have people to go to when you are stressed. Many students develop study systems or destressing skills that they can share with you to lessen the burden of law school.
But most importantly, having friends and socializing is healthy and encourages robust mental health in law school. We know you can feel the pressure to be solely focused on school, but the social aspects matter too! Many lawyers will tell you they met their lifelong best friends during their time at law school! If I had known how valuable friends in law school were before my 1L year, I would have been in every conversation circle possible!
5. Get A Book Stand
About four weeks into law school, I developed the worst sciatica I had ever experienced. I knew I was reading and studying more than I ever had but was unsure if this was the cause. After going to the doctor and confirming my diagnosis, the doctor recommended a book stand to keep my neck elevated. Every inch your neck is bent forward puts more and more pressure on your spine.
So, after getting a book stand (and a few sessions with my chiropractor), I was in much better shape. During my 2nd semester, my sciatica never came back as I continued to utilize my book stand. I would have saved myself a lot of pain and doctor bills if I had known the effects of downward reading before my 1L year. It might feel a little goofy at first, but it makes a world of difference. Also, before you know it, your classmates will be joining in on the trend too. Just be sure to buy a stand designed for heavy textbooks!
6. Take Plenty of Breaks
Certain people can dedicate themselves to law school seven days a week without suffering from that decision. However, for most of us, time off comes with many benefits. In fact, we actively encourage you to take a day off! Burnout is a serious concern with intensive academic programs such as law school. If you do not cut yourself a break, you will feel long term effects.
Before my 1L year, I thought there were no breaks in law school. I kept going at the same pace, never taking a day to stop. It is no surprise, however, that it did not last. I was exhausted, irritable, and dragging through my work. Eventually, I chose to have Sundays off every week. Having a day to do whatever I wanted away from school gave me something to look forward to at the end of every long week. It also helped me prioritize my schedule, leaving a full day to accomplish big personal errands. Moreover, my overall happiness and productivity increased tremendously. Remember, your life outside of law school doesn’t stop because you walk into the law school building (or log into Zoom) every day, so give time for the other pieces of your life.
Lastly, even with all the advice in the world, there are going to be parts of law school you need to figure out on your own. Every student is unique in their needs to succeed. We all come to law school with different mindsets and lives that require adjustments to make life easier. These are just a few of the realizations that I wish I had known before my 1L year. Had I had these pieces of advice sooner, each and every one would have taken me even farther in my law school success!